As an emergent field in constant pursuit of maturation and innovation, additive manufacturing welcomes a great diversity of talent. Many of those getting in on the ground floor will have opportunities to define their roles themselves as companies start small, with numerous distinct areas scientists and engineers can choose to focus on.
“Additive manufacturing is truly interdisciplinary,” said Craig Brice, professor of practice in mechanical engineering and director of the Advanced Manufacturing Program at Colorado School of Mines. “Skills and knowledge in mechanical engineering, materials, computer science, etc., are all applicable,” he said. “Fundamental skills that are helpful are computer-aided modeling and design, basic materials science, statistical methods and engineering economics.”
The 2021 Additive Manufacturing Salary Survey, conducted by AM recruitment firm Alexander Daniels Global, divides industry jobs into nine categories: C-level, operation & finance, HR & legal, software, marketing, service engineering, research & development, application & consulting, and sales.
While technical knowledge of additive manufacturing process is valuable in all of these roles, most people with an engineering or scientific background will gravitate toward positions in R&D (the largest discipline in AM, with 36% of professionals), software, service engineering and application & consulting.
In service engineering, engineers and technicians work with customers—other companies—to install, maintain and service 3D printers.
Staff in application & consulting often work closely with sales teams to help potential customers understand additive manufacturing technology and how it might be implemented in their business. Application engineers also take their understanding of customer needs and share that with colleagues in R&D to develop new products and technology.
Software engineers are critical to all steps in the additive manufacturing process. Designing new parts, translating design files and operating the printers themselves all require different forms of software. Employees in this discipline develop, build and improve all these necessary programs.
Research & development is particularly important for a nascent field such as additive manufacturing and covers a broad range of activities. Scientists and engineers in this discipline work to discover new and improve existing products, techniques and materials in additive manufacturing.
The Alliance for the Development of Additive Processing Technologies, based at Mines, for example, seeks to optimize the 3D printing of metal, using scientific methods, data informatics and artificial intelligence to determine which materials and processes will result in parts with the desired properties.